Energy roundup

New planning guidance on shale gas exploration has been published as the government launched the 14th onshore oil and gas licensing round. National Parks, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and World Heritage Sites are given more protection by the guidance but environmental groups expressed concern that the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles will have final planning approval.

WYG has been appointed as a partner in a consortium, led by AMEC, that has been appointed as preferred bidder for Poland’s first nuclear power plant. The contract, expected to be confirmed in the next few weeks, will be worth a minimum of £6.2M to WYG, rising to £35M if optional work is undertaken over the 10 years of the job.

The UK could cut the cost of household energy by £1bn if it doubled its current links to continental european power markets through the increased use of power interconnectors, National Grid chief executive Steve Holliday has said in an interview with the Financial Times. To do this by 2020 would cost £3bn but would save consumers £1bn, he said.

The bill for cleaning up Britain’s nuclear waste has risen to more than £110bn, after a £6.6bn increase in the cost estimate for work required over the next 120 years. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority said in its annual report that the biggest increase derived from a fresh assessment of the work required at Sellafield, now estimated to cost £79.1bn. The NDA warned that the total would “increase significantly next year” once it had fully assessed a new “performance plan” for the site.

Hinkley Point C moved forward a small step this week when National Grid’s connection application for the new nuclear station was accepted by the Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government. The application is for a connection to run between Bridgewater in Somerset and Seabank near Avonmouth. From April 2012 the relevant Secretary of State became the decision maker on all national infrastructure applications for development consent. The Planning Inspectorate now has six months to examine the application, three months to make a recommendation and the Secretary of State another three months to make a final decision.

Windfarms are to be banned in Scotland’s national parks and national scenic areas under new planning guidelines announced by the Scottish Government. The move, part of the National Planning Framework, will offer protection to nearly a third of Scotland’s land area, including new wild land areas identified by Scottish Natural Heritage.

Steve Hollingshead, former chief executive of Laing O'Rourke in Australia, has been appointed construction director of Tidal Lagoon Power in charge of constructing Swansea Bay tidal lagoon. Mark Shorrock, chief executive of Tidal Lagoon Power said: "With the public examination process now underway in Swansea, our focus is on developing the team that will lead the construction.” Read our feature on the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon - part of Power Players of the West, here.

Toshiba has completed plans to take over Iberdrola’s 50% stake in the Nu Gen Moorside proposals for 3.4GW of new nuclear generation at Sellafield in Cumbria. The company has also taken 10% of the GDF Suez stake. Toshiba is the majority owner of reactor manufacturer Westinghouse and plans to build three AP1000 pressurised water reactors at Moorside starting in 2018, with the first unit intended to be operational by 2024.

Fracking in National Parks should be permitted because the visual impact can be limited when the process is "done properly", the outgoing chairman of the Environment Agency Lord Chris Smith is reported to have said. "Provided it is done carefully and properly regulated, those fears are definitely exaggerated," Smith said in an interview with the Times.

Fracking should and will proceed in Scotland despite the existence of only relatively "modest" amounts of shale gas and oil, ministers have said. A British Geological Survey study of shale resources in Scotland's "Midland Valley", spanning Glasgow and Edinburgh, estimated there could be 6 billion barrels of oil and 80 trillion cubic feet of gas beneath the ground. For comparison there is believed to be 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas in Northern England.